comments versus trackback

I’ve not received any comment spam (or abusive comments) in my blog, but I’ve seen that others have. I did get a pneis enlrgaement* spam comment in one of my course blogs, but nothing here. In response to this phenomenon, which several people have been writing about lately, Matt thoughtfully asks a broader question about comments in general: do they skew how a blog is read? “[T]hereís a way in which open comments on every post alters the reception of the blog as a whole: the worth of an entry is implicitly measured by how many comments it garners.” Can we do without them, he wonders, relying instead on TrackBack? Of course, then maybe we’d just switch to an (un)conscious system by which an entry’s worth is related to the number of TrackBacks it receives. Anyway, it’s this kind of questioning that keeps me returning to Matt’s blog: comment spam leads to a larger consideration of the effect of comments versus TrackBacks on reading practices, or posting “hot” and then editing leads to the coining of a new term, “blog flutter.” Some of us are more suited for digital studies than others. Comments like these evidence Matt’s admirable acumen for digital studies.

However, I would ask also whether the number of comments (or TrackBacks) an entry garners affects how it’s written. I received no comments on my course proposal entry or on my ASECS paper proposal. I’m not complaining, mind you, it’s just that I have this sense that the autobiographical stuff I write is of more interest to you, dear reader, than the entries about my teaching and research. So while lately I’ve been feeling like I should be writing what I tend to refer to as “substantial” entries (about, as my banner describes, “literature, technology, culture, education, academia”) as opposed to what I refer to instead as “self-indulgent autobiography,” I assume that many readers come to the blog for the latter more than for the former. Or for a mix of the two.

I’m still not ready to “out” myself as a blogger to the C18 community, which might lead to a different kind of community of readers on my blog. We’ll see.

*intentional misspelling to avoid undesired google hits

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12 thoughts on “comments versus trackback

  1. I was under the impression that the misspellings were from the original and designed to avoid spam filters….
    This is a good question. I find your 18th C entries quite interesting, but I don’t always feel qualified to comment on them. I tend to be less autobiographical in my blog, but my “research” entries often get more hits than my film reviews. For a while, it changed how I wrote film reviews (I tried asking questions, for example), but I realized that the absence of comments is often due to the fact that my readers haven’t seen the film. Not sure I have anything more than passing speculation here.

  2. I’ve noticed this same general trend, both on my own blog and others’: entries with scholarly or professional substance often receive the least play, at least as measured by the yardstick of comments. A large part of it may simply be human nature: a lot of people will have something to say about what song you should learn next or what tunes to put on an MP3 player, far fewer people (as Chuck notes) can comment on the nuances of some intervention C18 studies or digital culture. There’s also more responsibility to comment *well* on such posts–it’s like when the talk at lunch suddenly turns to an intellectual matter and everyone at the table sort of visibly straightens and puts on their thinking cap.
    Kari reminds me that her most-commented post is still the one about a meatloaf.

  3. Then there are introverts like me who even have to think about what they read/write sometimes before commenting, and lazy introverts like me aren’t always great about coming back to comment on older posts. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about your proposal for a course I would very much like to take, even as an urban affairs (and ex-English) major.
    I also sometimes use comments and trackbacks differently. I’ll tend to use a trackback if the post is a springboard to something I want to blog about and comment when I have something to say more directly to the blogger.
    Have you read Rebecca Blood’s book “The Weblog Handbook”? She writes about the “what-to-post” dilemma: “If you want to create a compelling weblog, you must write for an audience of one: yourself. …remember that your weblog is your play space and behave accordingly. On this page you are the king, and what is interesting to you is what is interesting to everyone.”

  4. I hesitate to comment on anything I suspect might elicit an overly negative emotional reaction from *someone* reading it, unless I feel prepared for a fight. I’ve experienced the trauma of having slightly offhand or even tongue-in-cheek comments (which were perfectly well understood by the author of a blog) ripped, shredded, reposted out of context on another reader’s blog, and purposefully misinterpreted and ridiculed.
    I find that the more personal entries, the ones which may provoke a large response without opening up a *debate* degrade into squabbles with a lot less frequency.
    When it comes to more, ah, intellectual topics, I’d have to be seriously committed to defending my views before any *potential* idiots who might randomly read my comments before I’d find it worth commenting on a site, unless I knew the blogger possessed fairly decent moderating skills. And I’m not talking about extremely popular blogs, either. Just ordinary 30-100 hits/day blogs can suffer from the occasional reader who makes a fracas and takes it to his/her blog in the hopes of gaining hits from the controversy.
    I’m just wary, therefore, I suppose. So I lurk far more often than I comment. When I do, it’s often in response to questions such as yours here. *shrugs*

  5. And I apologise for the double post. I hit enter far too soon.
    I meant to add that my experience of reading comments is that the appearance of several or even many comments doesn’t change how I read a blog, but it does affect how I comment in turn. I’m think (although, I admit, I’m not sure) I tend to comment more often if there are already 1 or 2 comments (rather than 0), and hardly at all when there are more than 25.
    Also, the first comment often sets the tone for those which follow. I do take cues from those who’ve already commented, especially if their writing indicates a familiarity with the author. And, of course, sometimes a reader will reply to a purely rhetorical question, and by replying invite other responses, none of which the author of the blog really anticipated.

  6. /Matt/”There’s also more responsibility to comment *well* on such posts–it’s like when the talk at lunch suddenly turns to an intellectual matter and everyone at the table sort of visibly straightens and puts on their thinking cap.”/Matt/
    That’s what I was thinking. It’s not only easy, but less professionally scary, to post “yeah, I think the iPod is great too.” Digging into Foucault, the origins of the novel, or some other such thing takes more time to think about … and more guts to hit post (imho).
    And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a comment only to close the window without posting it. Just walk away from the ledge.

  7. The is a nice little interval where spam makes an entry appear in a comment roll (if the blog has a most recent comments section). And the reader who happens to follow the link may by chance occurance, accessing the blog before the comment scrolls off the roll, will be rewarded with a reading experience akin to a random stroll through a blog’s archives (BTW, a random access generator would be fun!)
    Of course a similar experience could be had sans spam through the efforts of commentators engaging with the entry and not just finding a bit of cyber-wall space to scratch out a message.
    I’ve suggested elsewhere (in a comment to Matt’s posting to his blog) a divison of labour. Some nice foundation could fund some academic institutions to provide the human power to do the filtering of spam (apprenticeship in moderating). Combine the trackback feature with the comment posting capabilities and one gets a Commentaria. Apart from the spam control, I think that some very interesting rhetorical moves could be made since the comments would be _about_ a posting on a blog rather than _to_ a blog author. […] As blogging moves away from being an “extra” and towards an essential part of academic work (at least in some quarters) the human resources need to be at play. Imagine trying to run large classes without teaching assistants. Extramuros communication just might bring back the role of the secretary.
    The secretary: 18th century style and 21st :)

  8. Francois’s comment reminded me that I had noticed the way in which comment spam functions as a kind of random-access generator, bringing old entries back to the surface within a slightly new context. I could do without the references to a certain blue pill once endorsed by Bob Dole.

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